Return Sculpture to Nigeria – Says Cambridge College Students


Jesus College Student Union (JCSU) of Cambridge University College has passed a motion saying that a bronze sculpture of a cockerel which was taken from the Benin empire in 1897 should be repatriated. The students did this via casting of votes to return the cockerel statue which stands in their hall back to Nigeria where it was looted from in the 19th century.

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The students also held a campaign where they echoed that the school should remove a statue of British businessman, Cecil Rhodes, alongside the cockerel sculpture. They said the sculpture should be handed over to Nigeria in a repatriation ceremony.

Bronze statue of Benin cockerel in Jesus College, Cambridge

              T According to the students, the cockerel which is known as “okukor” was among hundreds of artworks taken from the Benin empire in Nigeria, after a stringent British naval expedition in 1897 that brought the empire to an end. In the same way that Greece has pursued the return of the Parthenon marbles, Nigeria has repeatedly called for all the Benin bronzes, which are part of its cultural heritage to be brought back to their place of origin. A report by Cambridge’s student newspaper, Via which the proposal was published said:

“The contemporary political culture surrounding colonialism and social justice, combined with the university’s global agenda, offers a perfect opportunity for the college to benefit from this gesture.”

The proposal document which was unanimously sent, showed it’s concern that enough black students have not been consulted on the issue, also laying emphasis on the benefits of the school regarding such move. Ore Ogunbiyi, the JCSU racial equalities officer who has been working on the proposal to repatriate the cockerel, wrote on her blog:

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“Although our proposal faced some opposition, we are hopefully on our way to take this cockerel home! We are almost positive we have the support of college and it’s quite nice to see Jesus setting a precedent and taking steps in the right direction to weed out the colonial legacies that exist in bits of the university. We still have a lot of work to do with logistics and the rest, but how exciting and momentous and revolutionary is this?! What a time to be a Jesuan.”

As well as occupying pride of place in Jesus’s hall, the sculpture is of particular significance because the cockerel is a symbol of the college, featuring three times on its crest in deference to its founder, John Alcock, then bishop of Ely. Although the cockerel will be missed dearly at Cambridge College if finally imported to Nigeria, however, it has over-stayed it’s welcome in a land that knows little or nothing about it’s significant and importance to its owners in Benin Kingdom.

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